The Colgate Scene
May 1999
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Tributes to a leader
The Presidents' Club and Trustees honor Neil Grabois
Neil Grabois in the Grand Ballroom
Neil Grabois concluded his farewell remarks to the Presidents' Club with a quote from his favorite philosopher: Yogi Berra. "If I had it all to do over again," he said, "I'd do it all over again."

Eight hundred of the college's most generous donors had packed the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria on April 26 to offer best wishes to the college's 13th president and his wife Miriam before they depart in June for New York City, where he will become vice president of Carnegie Corporation. It was the second fete in as many months: in March the members of the board of trustees had honored the couple at a black tie dinner at LeCirque, surprising the president with the announcement of a $4 million ENRGY fund that would advance the college in recognition of his "infectious enthusiasm."

     For all the intimacy and elegance of the dinner for 100 at LeCirque, the affair at the Waldorf was a festival of goodwill and spirit that cut across the ages -- beginning with the 44 Presidents' Club members from the Class of '99 who bussed to New York for the celebration.

Greg Cesca '99 regales fellow alumni
     Some of Colgate's best known orators saluted the President and Mrs. Grabois, none better known than Presidents' Club toastmaster Andy Rooney '42, whom emcee Gloria Borger '74 labelled "The real deal."

     "Neil Grabois has done a great job," Rooney said. "The atmosphere in town reeks with success." Rooney compared the president to two other (somewhat younger) players who are leaving their games: Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky. "It's too bad Neil's leaving," he said, "but we're lucky we had him." Rooney drew the loudest cheer of the evening with an irresistible dig at the Ivy League: "We know we're not Harvard, and we're not Yale, and we thank God for it!"

     At the trustee's dinner, it was Garry Bewkes '48 and Perry Duryea '42 who recounted Grabois stories prior to a tribute by Lorie Slutsky '75. Said Slutsky: "Neil walked into a rare gem of a university, one in which faculty come to teach and students come to learn. And he polished it until it gleamed on the Hill."

Lead donors of the ENRGY Club; Jim Manzi '73, Will Browne '67, Bruce Calvert, '68, President Grabois, Wm. Brian Little '64, Robert Ho '56 and Peter Ackerman '68
     The $4 million that the board secretly amassed in Grabois' honor will establish a chair in mathematics in his name, fund improvements to the lower campus, and bring visitors to campus to debate national issues. Trustee Chairman Wm. Brian Little '64 and Vice Chair Bruce Calvert '68 organized the effort among all 73 trustees who have served during Grabois' tenure.

     The ENRGY fund is in addition to the $131 million that outgoing Presidents' Club Chairman John Birk '74 pointed out was given to Campaign Colgate by members of the club. Birk was also honored for increasing club membership.

     "Colgate has thrived under Neil Grabois' leadership, from innovation in the curriculum to success on the athletic field," said a testimonial in the Presidents' Club dinner program. "He presided through the latest revisions to the general education core, oversaw the college's response to the rapid growth of technology, maintained a pure approach to the best in inter-collegiate athletics, championed the arts, welcomed distinguished visitors from as far away as Russia and as close as the Oneida Indian Nation, encouraged faculty distinction in and out of the classroom, and cheered untold numbers of student accomplishments that as recently as this spring included a Rhodes Scholarship, two Goldwater Scholarships, a Watson Fellowship, and the college's first Churchill Scholarship . . . . For all that has been accomplished during Neil's tenure as president, though, he will be remembered best for his approach to daily campus life."

     When all the presentations were complete, the Presidents' Club dinner concluded with images flashing on the screen of Grabois in the role that he has defined since 1988: Colgate's leader. JL

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